Students in an exam hall / FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images

Students say the exam included questions  on topics they were not taught

Final year students at the University of Sheffield are demanding the institution launches an investigation, after they were handed an economics exam paper which included topics they claim they were not taught.  

Students say the exam paper, testing students on the economics of cities, included compulsory questions on subjects they say they were unable to answer– and fear their potentially poor results will affect their final degree classification.

As many as 90 per cent of the 100 students who sat the exam on Wednesday have now signed an online petition demanding the that the university investigates the paper's content.

But the redbrick institution has responded that the questions were in fact based on topics taught on the course, BBC News reported.

The students who wrote the petition argued that the paper was “highly unfair and in some parts, unreasonable”, as it required maths skills which were not taught on the module.

They went on to claim that the module’s lecturer “made it clear” that the test would only involve “simple maths”.

Students also complained that the paper would have been taken by joint-honours students reading social science subjects such as politics, who likely lacked the mathematical skills of BSc students. 

“These complaints are not about us objecting a tough examination paper but to protest the unfairness of the questions asked,” the petition concluded.


Using #ecn303travesty, citing the name of the paper, students also rallied against the test questions on Twitter.

Prof Andy Dickerson, the head of the economics department, told BBC News not all the questions were mathematically based.

“Those that had mathematical content were set at a level consistent with the maths taught to all economics students, including those on dual degrees.

"All questions were based on topics taught in the course and for which further reading was provided. One question used a term that they may not have encountered previously, but to avoid any misunderstanding, the term was defined precisely in the question in terms of concepts used in the module."

The department added the exam would be second-marked internally and moderated by external examiners.

"All module marks are compared across modules at each level to ensure comparability.

“If there are large discrepancies, adjustments are considered by the examination board.”

The impossible question: Can you answer it?

3. Consider a country with many cities and assume there are N>0 people in each city. Output per person is σN0.5and there is a coordination cost per person of yN2. Assume that σ > 0 and y > 0.

a) What sort of things does the coordination cost term yN2 represent? Why does it make sense that the exponent on N is greater than 1? [10 marks]

b) Draw a graph of per-capita consumption as a function of N and derive the optimal city size N. How does it depend on the parameters of σ and y? Provide intuition for your answers. [10 marks]

c) Describe which combinations of σ and y generate a peasant economy, meaning an economy with no citiies (or 1-person cities). Why might the values of the parameters σ and y have changed over time? What do these changes imply in terms of the optimal city size? [10 marks]